In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Julian of Norwich

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Anthologies of Essay
  • Journals and Symposia
  • Textual History: Composition, Transmission, and Early Reception
  • Julian as Author: Self-presentation, Revisions, Hermeneutic Strategies, and Rhetorical Techniques
  • Sources or Influences
  • Visions of the Passion
  • Theology
  • Gender and the Body
  • Jesus as Mother
  • Julian and the Anchorhold
  • A Revelation of Love and Other Middle English Literature
  • Poets and Julian of Norwich

Medieval Studies Julian of Norwich
Denise Baker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0256


The first English woman identified as an author, Julian of Norwich composed two accounts of the divine revelations she received on 13 (or 8) May 1373, as she lay dying at the age of thirty. She probably wrote the Short Text soon after her visionary experience, and later, around 1393, completed its revision into the Long Text, which expands all the showings, but especially increases Revelation Fourteen from the first three chapters on prayer to include the culmination of her resolution to the problem of evil by explaining how “alle shalle be wele” with the parable of the lord and servant and the analogy of Jesus as mother. Julian’s revision of the Short into the Long Text reveals her transformation from a visionary into an erudite theologian. Little is known about this woman’s life. A scribal note introduces the only surviving copy of the Short Text (British Library Additional MS 37790) as “a vision shown by the goodness of God to a devout woman and her name is Julian, who is a recluse at Norwich and still alive, A.D. 1413.” She is probably called Julian after the church in whose anchorhold she was enclosed from at least 1393–1394. Bequests to “‘Julian’ anakorite” in several wills from the last decade of the 14th century to 1416 verify that a female recluse occupied the cell. Margery Kempe also reports that she consulted with “Dame Ielyan” early in the second decade of the 15th century, “for the anchoress was expert in such things and could give good advice.” Only two witnesses to Julian’s texts are pre-Reformation: the sole manuscript of the Short Text and the excerpts from the Long Text compiled in Westminster Cathedral Treasury MS 4 around 1500. Four later manuscripts were copied at religious houses on the Continent around 1650 or later: Bibliothèque nationale fonds anglais 40 (Paris), in a “modernized” dialect; British Library Sloane 2499 (1) and Sloane 3705 (2), in a dialect closer to Julian’s East Anglian; and excerpts from the twelfth and thirteenth revelations in St. Joseph’s College, Upholland (Lancashire, England). In the 20th century, Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love found wide readership thanks to Grace Warrack’s Modern English translation of the Sloane Long Text published in 1901. Poets such as T. S. Eliot and prose writers like Annie Dillard echoed her words. Today, Julian of Norwich is the best known and most beloved of the medieval mystics.

General Overviews

Bhattacharji 2007, McAvoy 2010, Watson 2003, and Watt 2007 provide concise introductions to central topics in Julian’s Short and Long Texts, with different emphases as indicated in the annotations. Bradley 1992, Glasscoe 1993, and Pelphrey 1989 offer more ample, sequential readings that explain Julian’s theology in more detail. Riehle 2014 compares Julian to Middle English and Continental mystics. Jantzen 1988 and Aers and Staley 1996 address the religious, social, and political contexts of Julian’s texts.

  • Aers, David, and Lynn Staley. The Powers of the Holy: Religion, Politics, and Gender in Late Medieval English Culture. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.

    Staley’s chapter, “Julian of Norwich and the Late Fourteenth-Century Crisis of Authority” (pp. 107–178), sets the Short and Long Texts in their historical context and provides an original and persuasive reading of the political and social implications of Julian’s response to the crisis of authority. Recommended for readers familiar with late-14th-century English history and the canonical authors who are her contemporaries: Chaucer, Langland, and Gower.

  • Bhattacharji, Santha. “Julian of Norwich.” In A Companion to Medieval English Literature and Culture, c. 1350–c. 1500. Edited by Peter Brown, 522–536. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.

    A good overview of Julian’s distinctive themes and techniques as a visionary and theologian.

  • Bradley, Ritamary. Julian’s Way: A Practical Commentary on Julian of Norwich. London: Harper Collins Religious, 1992.

    A very useful introduction for nonspecialists that identifies Julian’s important themes by succinctly summarizing relevant concepts in A Revelation of Love (with parenthetical chapter citations so the reader can locate the sources) and providing a brief commentary.

  • Glasscoe, Marion. Middle English Mystics: Games of Faith. London: Longmans, 1993.

    Chapter 5, “Julian of Norwich: ‘Endles Knowyng in God’” (pp. 215–267), presents a well-organized sequential reading of the sixteen revelations.

  • Jantzen, Grace M. Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian. New York: Paulist Press, 1988.

    A thorough introduction to Julian of Norwich’s medieval context, her spirituality, and her theology for the general reader.

  • McAvoy, Liz Herbert. “Julian of Norwich.” In Medieval Holy Women in the Christian Tradition, c.1100–c.1500. Edited by Alastair Minnis and Rosalynn Voaden, 195–216. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2010.

    Summarizes current knowledge about Julian’s life and the transmission of her work, identifies the thematic trinitarianism and structural tripartism of her Short and Long Texts, and proposes a maternal hermeneutic that informs both.

  • Pelphrey, Brant. Christ Our Mother: Julian of Norwich. The Way of the Christian Mystics 7. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989.

    Written by the author of Love Was His Meaning: The Theology and Mysticism of Julian of Norwich (see also Pelphrey 1982, cited under Theology), this book proposes “to enliven scholarship with personal warmth, and to temper enthusiasm with accurate scholarship” (p. 7). Recommended for nonspecialists without much background in the medieval context or theology.

  • Riehle, Wolfgang. The Secret Within: Hermits, Recluses, and Spiritual Outsiders in Medieval England. Translated by Charity Scott-Stokes. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801451096.001.0001

    Chapter 9, “The Singular Vision of Julian of Norwich” (pp. 200–245), provides a thorough introduction to Julian’s theology in the broader context of Continental mysticism.

  • Watson, Nicholas. “Julian of Norwich.” In The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing. Edited by Carolyn Dinshaw and David Wallace, 210–221. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL052179188X.015

    An excellent analysis of the process by which Julian transformed the visionary experience of the Short Text into a theological revelation of love in the Long Text, with special attention to the revision informed by the hermeneutic instructions of 1388 and 1393.

  • Watt, Diane. Medieval Women’s Writing: Works by and for Women in England, 1100–1500. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2007.

    Balancing attention to Julian as a writer and as a theologian, the chapter “Julian of Norwich (1342/3–after 1416)” (pp. 91–115) discusses Julian’s self-presentation in the Short and Long Texts, the innovations of the latter, and the early evidence of their transmission and circulation.

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